The All Blacks are finally all back together in one group and the intensity has lifted appreciably as the clock ticks down to a crunch test against South Africa on Saturday and a looming World Cup squad selection.

Assistant coach Ian Foster today admitted the presence of the Boks in Wellington (and Auckland airport, where they spent time in each other's company after their flight to the capital on Monday was delayed by fog) had focused everyone's minds, as has the fact there are only four more tests until the World Cup.

South Africa, who beat the All Blacks in Wellington last year, are their first World Cup opponents on September 21.

"This week has been about taking a step," Foster said. "We know it's going to be very intense with the South Africans in town. It always is and that's added a bit of spice to it. Plus the fact we know we have a few more steps to go before we are where we need to be. But we have a group that is really aligned and by all signs today have done a pretty good job of it."


The presence of the Crusaders in Wellington, the majority of whom didn't make the trip to Argentina for last weekend's 20-16 victory, will also greatly increase the competition for places and therefore rachet up the instensity further.

"There's no doubt there's an edge in the group," Foster said. "There's no doubt we have a group which is very, very motivated to work hard. Generally it's always like that but there is an edge to it. It makes it enjoyable but they are a demanding group. They want to get everything right and they want answers, they want to know reasons why; there are a lot of challenges for a lot of us."

All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen and assistant coach Ian Foster. Photo / Getty
All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen and assistant coach Ian Foster. Photo / Getty

Foster admitted Blues wing Rieko Ioane was disappointed not to be selected to play the Pumas in Buenos Aires and will be eager for a run at the Cake Tin, as will franchise teammate Sonny Bill Williams, who has again been dogged by injury recently but is nearing a comeback.

Ioane is a near automatic selection for big tests but midfielder Williams needs time in the middle to prove he has the form and durability to make the trip to Japan.

"Rieko is a quality player," Foster said. "He's been outstanding for us. I thought he did really well in Super Rugby; I thought he tailed off at the end so we gave him a little break. He's now jumping out of his skin and was disappointed not to play last week and that's what you'd expect.

"For him it's been a matter of giving him a window to get really sharp and get his speed to where it needs to be. In terms of competition, I think everyone's feeling that. That's the good part about selecting guys who have put their hand up and picking guys who have maybe surprised us a bit with their form.

"Now that [Williams] feels he's closer he's at the same stage as everyone. He's a bit nervous and wants to know what's happening. He's searching … there's that apprehension and excitement. "